Author: Guede Mazaka
Jens rolled onto his back, looked at the ceiling, and then rolled further to check the bedside table. Two-fifty-two in the morning according to the clock. His phone wasn’t doing anything but the light on his PDA charging stand was blinking, so he’d gotten a couple messages. He reached out and pulled the PDA free, then read through the emails while Robin grunted and bumped his ass against Jens’ back, trying to burrow away from the initial glow the PDA screen had thrown off.
The emails were just updates and didn’t need replies, so after deleting the unimportant ones, Jens put his PDA back and turned over again. Robin elbowed him in the side, mumbling incoherently, and when Jens pushed at him, flapped the blankets over Jens’ face.
After Jens had pulled those off, he pushed himself over onto his elbow and bundled the sheets down till he was looking at Robin’s bare back. Head down, the other man reached behind himself and tried getting at Jens again, but Jens caught his wrist and pinned it. And then he leaned forward and nibbled up the side of one of Robin’s shoulderblades, then rounded the tip with his tongue and licked down towards the spine. Robin groaned, curling up into Jens’ mouth. “Didn’t we do this two hours ago?”
“And forty-three minutes,” Jens added. He slipped his hands beneath the sheets and cupped them over Robin’s hips just as the other man groaned in an entirely different way.
Not that Robin was actually all that annoyed. His ass rubbed up and down over Jens’ hardening cock till their shirt-tails and the blankets were out of the way, and then he pushed his hands down to help Jens slide into him. He still was a bit stretched from earlier and hadn’t rinsed himself out properly in the shower so it was easy as putting a hand in water. Jens closed his eyes and dropped his head on Robin’s shoulder, and simply let himself be carried to the lazy conclusion.
“Mmm…you going to sleep now?” Robin asked, pulling himself off Jens’ cock. He languidly twisted around and pressed sticky hands over Jens’ chest as he snuggled up, looking rather smug even though he was squinting to see Jens in the dark.
A few seconds later, he huffily shoved till Jens had gone onto his back, then climbed on top. Jens rolled his eyes and grabbed Robin’s knees to keep the man off his ribcage. His mother might think Robin was nothing but attractive bones, but Robin definitely had added a few pounds since he’d moved in. Though Jens would admit it was only unappealing when the moron was trying to compression-suffocate him. “Tomorrow morning I’ve got an assassin—a real one, not just some idiot letting their temper get the best of them—starting work. I think if I’ve ever had a justifiable excuse for insomnia, I’ve got one now.”
“Well, he’d already dragged FC so into it that it was either that or kill him, and you nixed the second choice, remember? You and your ‘We’re not gangsters! We don’t kill people!’” Robin snorted. He sent his voice soaring into falsetto for the last part, shifting around till Jens finally sat up against the headboard to force Robin to stay over his thighs. “Anyway, Freddie says Giuly knows enough to know we aren’t hiring Larsson to kill him. Even though that would be less embarrassing.”
“You’re not helping.” A viscous drop of something suddenly spread over Jens’ stomach. He swiped it off with a finger, then realized what it was and with a sigh, got a tissue from the bedside table to clean off their pricks. “Ludo may know that—and damn Freddie for letting things get out of hand when he should’ve just called Raúl and me—but that’s right now. He’s going to wonder if having Larsson permanently on my payroll means I’m putting in a reserve for the future.”
At first Robin preened and hitched up when Jens touched his cock, but once he figured out what Jens was actually doing with it, he snatched the tissue from Jens’ hand and did it himself. “Yeah. By the way—”
“If you’re about to go off on Freddie again, you’d better rethink that.” Yes, Freddie tended to drag Jens into his messes, but he had a brand of loyalty that was rare in any walk of life and he was very capable. When he wasn’t so goddamn distracted by…Jens cut off that line of thought. He’d done all the yelling he’d cared to on that already.
“I wasn’t.” Even in the dark, Robin’s big-eyed look of innocence was unconvincing. But he did keep his mouth shut on that point, so Jens didn’t toss him off. “Though, you know, maybe you should start hiring people with hair. It looks like they cause less trouble.”
Jens stared at him. “And that’s what you come up with.”
“Like you can think of any better theory,” Robin muttered, leaning over. He dropped the soiled tissue in the trashcan, then continued forward till he was lying down on Jens, the top of his head banging the underside of Jens’ chin. His fingertip ran in lopsided linked circles down Jens’ right side. “You did what you had to, all right? My God, Jens: you can’t plan for everything that’s going to sling shit this way…unless you’ve got ESP or something. You don’t, right?”
“I think you mean precognition, and no. You’re just very simple to read.” The way Robin was lying on Jens, it was no trouble at all to sense the other man lift his arm and intercept his punch. Jens held Robin’s wrist for a second, then let go. After Robin had gotten his usual annoyed grunt-and-flop out of his system, Jens slowly laid his hand on the back of the other man’s head. He cupped it, then slid his fingers down to curl them over Robin’s nape; Robin let out a whistling sigh and relaxed a bit more beneath it. “At least you are,” Jens added very quietly.
“Heard that,” was muffled into Jens’ chest. Then Robin twisted around to look up again. “I’m going to pretend you meant it in a nice way, since that was a really good fuck just now. So why aren’t you sleeping?”
Jens looked at the far wall. “I think I need to rearrange the office some more,” he finally said.
* * *
“All his papers seemed fine, and nothing out of order came up when I did the usual searches. His record’s spotless,” Michael said.
“I know. That’s what worries me. If he’s that good, then just what is this guy? Or should I say was he, before Jens ran into him?” Torsten had jacked his seat-back all the way down, so only his nose was showing above the desk. Well, that and the pen he kept spinning up into the air. “Not to mention Ljungberg is an assistant, so why he needs one…David? That you?”
David nodded at Michael as he came in, gingerly holding out a packet of papers. “Yeah. Listen, these should’ve come down with Larsson but there was a mix-up and I’m really sorry and I hope you don’t—”
“Oh, Christ. Who else did Jens hire?” Torsten said, shooting up. His hair flopped into his eyes and he let it stay till he’d banged his elbows down on the desk. Then he grimaced and pushed them out of the way. “Sorry, Davi. Didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
“No prob. Actually, I’m kind of grateful somebody’s exploding around here,” David sighed, dropping into a chair. For a moment he just sagged, and then he heaved himself and handed over the packet. “Jens is scary calm today. I’m terrified that I’m going to check my newsfeeds and find out Olli Kahn’s been found in a dumpster or something.”
Torsten undid the envelope and shook the papers out onto his desk. He glanced over them, then picked out one sheet and held it up, tilting it a bit. When Michael scooted over, Torsten tilted it more so they both could read.
“Man, I’d even take Schweini and Poldi tossing cherry bombs in the bathrooms again,” David went on. “I’m just freaked--oh, Jens didn’t hire anybody else. Not like he needs to, since this new guy has like, the résumé of the patron saint of agents. You know, if we have one. Seriously, he can’t be that good.”
Michael finally stirred, looking up at David. The other man gazed back with patently genuine disbelief, which was slowly turning to alarm…and Michael became aware that he was staring just a little too long. “Ah, I don’t think—”
“He’s not. They never are—Jens doesn’t hire the perfect by-the-book ones. He gets the ones who’re the best but who’ve fucked up somehow, so they need the hand.” Torsten pulled at his nose, then pressed his knuckles to his forehead. He squeezed his eyes shut, looking as if he had a horrible migraine and was trying to force it out with sheer willpower.
David blinked. “What?”
“Ljungberg’s getting promoted?” Michael finally managed to say. “But he’s…he’s…”
* * *
“I’m what?” For a moment, Fredrik just stared. Then he gave his suit-jacket and trousers a brisk dusting before dropping down on his knees. But Jens’ desk was too high and he couldn’t even see the other man, so he grabbed the edge and pulled himself up just enough to find Jens…fiddling with his PDA. “Jens, please, please, please--”
“Oh, get up,” Jens snapped.
Fredrik got up.
After giving his PDA a last scowl, Jens raised his head. He reached out and set the PDA in its charging holster without that faintly irritated gaze moving away from Fredrik, then sighed. “This isn’t a punishment, for God’s sake.”
“But—” Fredrik was still so stunned that he couldn’t even—he looked frantically around, then down at himself and fortuitously his cell-phone went off. He yanked it off his belt and checked the ID. “But Thierry needs the help! He can’t go without an assistant!”
“I know, and he won’t be for very long. But…” Jens paused. Then he resettled himself in his chair and folded his hands over the top of the desk. He briefly closed his eyes and the skin around them darkened and sagged with fatigue, but then his eyes snapped open. They watched Fredrik with no little affection, but with the calm that meant he’d come to a final decision. “Freddie, it can’t be you anymore. You’ve been his assistant for six years now, and actually, it’s long past time when you should’ve been promoted.”
Fredrik started to protest before he really processed what Jens had said. And then he did, and though he knew all the words Jens had used and understood them when they were put together in sentences, he still didn’t quite follow the other man.
Jens blinked, looking tired again. He swallowed and his mouth went rigid for a moment, then relaxed like he was holding back a yawn. “You’re completely capable of working on your own, and besides, the two of you basically have been operating separately for the past…half-year.”
“I know, I meant—I was going to work on that so that didn’t happen anymore,” Fredrik said.
“Don’t.” Something beeped and Jens turned slightly to check his PDA before looking back up at Fredrik. “Look, Freddie, you’re not cut out to be a career assistant. Sorry if this doesn’t fit with your plans, but you’re too good.”
A hint of a smile in Jens’ eyes, but as time dragged on and Fredrik stupidly didn’t say anything, it started to fade and the exhaustion returned. Fredrik blinked, then gave himself a shake. He looked around, then hit himself on the forehead and grabbed the chair that for years and years had always been in one spot in Jens’ office and sat in it. “Thanks, Jens. I’m not trying to be difficult—sorry about that. I just…never really thought about not working with Thierry.”
“Who said you weren’t? You’re both still in this group, aren’t you?” Jens snorted, picking up a pen. He ran his thumb along its side, then flicked it over the back of his hand to catch it between his last two fingers. “It’s just that now instead of taking his assignments, you’re totally, completely, fully responsible for doing your own. And by the way, the first one is training Larsson.”
Fredrik raised his eyebrows. “I…thought this wasn’t a punishment.”
“It’s not. But I don’t think I said that you were going on vacation. Did I?” Rhetorical question, of course, so Jens didn’t wait for an answer. “Especially since I just had to hire an actual hitman because of the last time you went—”
“Okay, okay, I get the picture. Thierry can’t cover for me anymore, so if I screw up my ass gets burned,” Fredrik said, putting up his hands. He held them palms-out, doing his best to look innocent.
Jens grinned, ducked his head, and came back up looking deadly serious. “Exactly.” He flipped his pen around again and clicked the pen, then pulled a folder towards himself. The wheels of his chair whispered as they rolled over the carpets. “Oh, and Freddie? I know you’ve been messing around with Larsson. You know company policy and my feelings on the subject, so you’re responsible for that, too.”
That was a definite dismissal; by the time Fredrik muttered a ‘yeah, I know,’ Jens had his nose buried in paperwork. Fredrik got out of his seat, then paused. He cautiously put one hand on the edge of the desk and leaned forward. “Jens?”
“Yes?” Pages rustled and annoyed scratching noises came from the pen.
“Thanks,” Fredrik said. “I won’t let you down.”
Jens glanced up. “I know.”
Then he went back to work, and Fredrik walked out feeling surprisingly relieved. That had gone much better than he’d—he stopped.
Henrik blinked at him. The steam from the two cups of coffee that he was holding slowly rose to curl against the underside of his chin. “David told me to wait here for you. My paperwork’s all gone through, so I think I can start working…”
And suddenly Fredrik was utterly terrified.
* * *
“…no big operations this week, I hope. I smell like a slaughterhouse. I take my laundry out of the dryer and sniff it, and it’s like I…” Shevchenko drifted off into disgruntled Russian, eyes rolling as he tipped his shot of vodka into his mouth. Then he dropped forward so the glass nearly cracked, it hit the counter so hard.
It was just before the restaurant was due to open for lunch, so the loud thump attracted no end of attention. Deco stuffed his forkful of veal into his mouth so he wouldn’t grimace and racked his brains for some way to get out of the conversation before somebody like Thuram realized exactly why he talked to Shevchenko. “Little early for that, isn’t it?”
“Oh, no, I get off now. I’m like a bat,” Andriy muttered. He flicked the shot-glass down the bar so the bartender could get it, then gave the man a little wave that did nothing for the suspicious looks he was shooting Shevchenko. Then he spun himself around on the stool, moving with tipsy grace, and favored Deco with a look of limpid black humor. “It’s too bad you don’t speak Russian. Cursing in Italian is too…pretty. Sometimes. Ah, boss, sorry. I’m just going home.”
“Don’t worry about it. Lilian’s got the cab waiting.” As Shevchenko slipped off the stool, Ludo gave him a friendly but firm clap on the shoulder that pushed the man on his way. Then Giuly pulled himself up in Shevchenko’s place with a glance towards Deco’s plate. “How was it? We’re interviewing for a new lunch-time sous-chef.”
Deco very calmly sipped some water to clear his throat before he answered. “Heavy on the pepper, I think. But it’s very tender. What’s with Sheva? When I recommended him I didn’t think—”
“Abramovich was an idiot and called him earlier to make a fuss. He’ll be all right tomorrow, and anyway I’m having Sébastien try to find him some company. I think he could use some, what with the difficulties of adjusting to a new country, a new system,” Ludo said, picking up Deco’s knife. He stabbed its tip into a piece of veal, then popped it into his mouth and thoughtfully chewed. “Hmm. Very tender. He does know how to treat meat. Light touch except when you need a heavy hand.”
“Not when it comes to spicing it.” After putting his glass down, Deco flicked his fork—which had been lying on the plate—so it slid around to within Ludo’s reach. Then he took his napkin off the counter and wiped his mouth. “There’s a difference between killing your tongue and making it burn for more.”
Ludo grinned and did not take the fork. Fifteen minutes later, they were upstairs and Deco was sprawled over Ludo’s giant marble desk, his come turning into a sticky mess that was in serious danger of gluing him to the chilly stone, and Ludo was busy seeing with his tongue just how wide-spread of a burn his prick had given Deco’s insides.
“So—God, wait—Ludo, this is--news--” Deco hissed. He jammed his nails into the desk, then hitched up so he could curl his fingers around the edge. But before he could pull away, Giuly had pinned his thighs and was…was very delicately running the tip of his tongue over the back of Deco’s knee. It was ticklish and awful and weirdly arousing, and above all it was really, really distracting. “MarymotherofPaoloMaldiniquit.”
The licking stopped. Then Ludo’s breath was ghosting over Deco’s ass again, but not deliberately; the man was just sitting up. “What?”
“Paolo. Maldini.” Deco needed a moment to get enough breath for whole sentences. And the foreign language. “He came back from his personal trip to Milan that I told you about and apparently walked into Jens’ office and handed him a copy of a resignation letter before even going home to unpack.”
The fingers holding Deco’s legs in place absently moved to start stroking the inside of his thighs; they didn’t bother pressing up against his perineum, which meant Ludo was thinking and not teasing. So Deco accordingly took advantage of the moment to shift so he could get his head over his wrists and undo the tie that was knotted around them.
“You mean he gave notice. He’s too senior to just walk out, and it’d take him a while to wrap up his current cases or hand them off…are they going to let him leave?” Ludo finally asked.
Deco paused, then reluctantly spit out the loop that he’d nearly pulled free. “It looks like they are once his two weeks’ notice is up. You sound surprised.”
“Well, he knows a hell of a lot, and I don’t know how good FC is now at keeping former employees’ mouths shut…I wonder what he brought up to make them take his resignation. Interesting.” Ludo’s face suddenly pressed into Deco’s ass, his nose poking between the buttocks so its tip nearly inserted itself into Deco. Then he turned his head and began nibbling so Deco squirmed and couldn’t concentrate enough to undo the damn knot. “Why’d he quit?”
“I…I…” Deco ground his forehead against his wrists, hissing “…I can’t talk when you’re doing that.”
A hand suddenly squeezed beneath him and felt at his cock. Then Ludo laughed and took a playful bite at the right side of Deco’s ass. “You were doing fine talking. It’s just the telling you sometimes have problems with, and even when I’m not seeing how tender you are. Anderson, if you don’t know right now, that’s fine. FC’s a big company and even you can’t know everything. Though you can find out.”
“I got hold of a copy of his letter,” Deco gritted out. His entire lower back and groin was one aching sore, and that included his damn prick that was stupidly starting to swell again anyway, and Ludo just would not stop calling him that. As if he needed that little bit more to know who currently had the upper hand. “It’s a bunch of nothing, so I already went looking but nobody seems to know. Even Lehmann honestly seemed shocked, and if he doesn’t know…I might just have to go to Maldini to find out.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. If it’s his personal issues, then it’s his issues.” For a moment, Giuly’s voice flattened and chilled. Then he snorted and teasingly swirled his tongue over the fresh bite-mark, turning its sting into a low burn. “Actually, what I really want to know is who the hell are they hiring in place of him? They need somebody good. Nobody’s asked you for recommendations yet, have they? Anderson?”
Deco opened his mouth to reply and Ludo leaned forward to stab that long tongue up into him so instead he writhed and chewed at his tie. His wrists. His tie. Goddamn it, that’d be the fifth one this week he’d ruined. “Can…get…list…”
“Oh, good. Leave it with Lilian—I’ll be out of town for a few days.” Ludo pinched the inside of Deco’s left thigh and snorted, nuzzling deep between Deco’s buttocks. “Don’t be jealous. I can’t help it if I’ve got to visit the other offices once in a while, and I promise, I don’t fuck anybody the way I do you. And…oh, yes, something for you: your little star’s assistant went to a paper-man the other day.”
The breathless, gargling snarl that came out of Deco’s mouth inflected up at the end. Closest he could come to a question when Ludo was slipping his thumb in and out of his ass like that.
“He wanted a work visa, but he’s already got one for himself. Funny, no?” Ludo mused. “Want a copy of it?”
“Please,” Deco mumble-choked. The tip of his tie scraped irritatingly at the back of his mouth so he wrenched back his head and finally spit it out.
Ludo twisted his thumb, pushing the nail deep into that one magical spot that never failed to make Deco melt. “Want me to fuck you ag--merde.” He fumbled around till he got out his ringing cell-phone. “Oui? Qu-est-ce que…ah, vraiment? Non…non, non, non. Non!”
Deco bucked at him, then dropped his head and ground his mouth against the underside of his right arm. “Goddamn it, please.”
Not missing a beat, Ludo got up, took out his thumb and then shoved in his prick. He paused for a moment to adjust, then grabbed Deco’s hips and started to move just as he got mad enough to start screaming French obscenities into the phone. Which Deco could’ve understood if he wanted to, but right then he was just a little more interested in letting his eyes roll back into his head.
* * *
“He says I can take a part-time vacation, but I don’t understand how I am supposed to take a vacation when he’s just promoted Freddie and hired Larsson, and Maldini’s quit and then there’s Ruud coming back next week,” Thierry said. He shrugged and flipped his hands up, then moved his head a little so he could watch them fall back. “I don’t understand it. He knows if I take a vacation then he’s going to kill somebody and I’ll have to come back to bail him out of jail.”
Bobby finished writing a note on the paper he’d been reading, then set it down on the sofa-arm and looked down at Thierry. His other hand stopped tickling at Thierry’s stomach. “I thought you wanted to take a nap.”
“I do! But I was just lying down and thinking it’s so nice to finally have a moment where I can just stare at that little thing on your chin, and then I started thinking about all the reasons why I couldn’t before, and…” Exhaling, Thierry dropped his hands on himself so they overlapped with Bobby’s fingers and let his head loll on the other man’s lap. “I’m sorry. I’m babbling.”
First Bobby pretended to think, rocking his head back and forth, and then he grinned. “You’re cute that way.” Sudden sober face. “But not when you make fun of my goatee.”
“I wasn’t making fun,” Thierry protested, pulling his own serious face. Then he had to turn quick and hide his face in Bobby’s stomach when the giggle got away from him; Bobby wiggled briefly before giving up and just chuckling himself.
It was getting on the late side and many of the lawyers had already left, so the sound of their laughter echoed a little in the room. The eeriness of it made the moment of good humor dissolve all the more quickly, and by the time Thierry had rolled back, Bobby was already gazing moodily at the far wall.
He made a bit of an effort to look less depressing when he realized Thierry was staring up at him, lifting his brows and moving his shoulders. “What on earth is a ‘part-time vacation’? Or is that just how you say ‘working from home’?”
“Ah, it means Jens is going to give Freddie a lot of the stuff he usually gives me, I think. So I’ll have little to do and can go home early for maybe a week, but depending on how fast Larsson catches on, next week I might have a lot of fixing to do.” Thierry reviewed what he’d just said, then winced and reached up and behind himself. He got the end of the couch and slowly levered himself up, swinging his legs off the far end so he could sit next to Bobby. “I don’t mean to say that Freddie would—because he really should’ve been promoted before this. I completely agree with Jens there, and I really should have said something instead of letting it slip my mind…but it’s very different being an assistant and being an agent. I needed something like two months to get the hang of it, and that was with Jens still being my boss.”
Bobby frowned. Then his face cleared and he nodded in understanding. “Oh, right, he hired you as his assist—so you never were agents at the same time? He got promoted and then promoted you?”
“Yes, and Freddie didn’t come along till a bit later, so I didn’t have to worry about training him at the same time,” Thierry said. He spread his knees a little so he could comfortably rest his elbows on them, clasping his hands. “What I don’t know is if Jens doesn’t mean this, at least a little, as a punishment. I wish he or Freddie would tell me exactly what happened in Italy.”
“I wish I knew, too.” When Thierry looked at him, Bobby shrugged and picked up his pen with deliberate nonchalance. “You realize Paolo was in Italy at the same time, and he quit when he came back, don’t you?”
“I did but Jens is really, genuinely…ah, upset about that.” Thierry leaned forward and pressed his fingertips to his lips, trying to make them hold still. He felt Bobby shake a little against his hip and pressed harder, then dropped his hands. “No, really. He never saw that coming, and it’s—Jens didn’t do anything. He…did Paolo and Kaká have a fight?”
After twiddling the pen for a few seconds, Bobby tossed it back down with a sigh and lifted his arms. He stretched them across the back of the sofa and sank till he could rest his head against the wall, his heels leaving twin grooves in the carpet. “If they did, they made up. I don’t see Kaká so much now, but…he seems much, much happier. And Paolo—I swear, the man’s actually relieved to be retired. And when I was thinking that he lived for the tabloid cases.”
Well, then Thierry really wasn’t sure what was going on and had absolutely no reply. If it’d been truly crucial, Jens would have told him no matter what, but the other man had just given Thierry a skeleton explanation about Nesta and Larsson and then said that out of respect for Freddie, he wouldn’t say anymore. And Freddie had apparently been a bit dazed from whatever had gone on in Italy and then what had happened afterward, and had asked if he could tell Thierry later. At the time he’d been absentmindedly trying to staple papers with a pair of scissors, so Thierry had thought that that was a good idea.
He still thought it was, but he’d have to know sometime. If Freddie had gone off and done something…well, he’d done it as Thierry’s assistant and so part of the responsibility should have gone to Thierry, for not keeping a closer eye on him. Then again, maybe that was why there wasn’t a replacement for Freddie lined up—Thierry grimaced and shook his head. Jens had apologized for that; there just hadn’t been time to interview assistants and then getting Larsson in was attracting too much attention as it was. Thierry had even suggested they put off getting him another assistant.
Something touched the back of his head, and he turned around to look curiously at Bobby. “Hmm? Oh, sorry, I drifted off. I was just wondering how long before I’m flooded with people thinking they can step into Freddie’s shoes. My God, you should have seen it when we put out a call for Jens’ second assistant. It was horrible.”
“I think I can imagine…I saw the HR Director for the legal department today and I thought I’d seen a zombie,” Bobby said. He glanced at Thierry, then rolled his eyes. “First there’s competing just to fill the vacancy, and then there’s in-house competing for all the promotions. Paolo was so senior that his resignation means almost the whole place has to be reshuffled.”
“No, I’m happy where I am.” Bobby looked at Thierry and Thierry ducked his head, then snorted at himself and tipped over to rest his head against the other man’s shoulder. Lips brushed over the top of his head, and then Bobby slung his arm around Thierry’s waist as he reached for his work again. “But staying there’s going to take some doing…I might have to sit on the interviewing committee to do it, and I really…I have better things to do.”
Thierry closed his eyes. “Want to interview people for me instead?”
Pause. Then Bobby shoved his hand up into Thierry’s belly and tickled it mercilessly till Thierry managed to grab his wrist. The papers went flying as they fell over each other, Thierry’s head narrowly missing the far sofa-arm, and right about then Thierry gave up on the nap.
“You could at least break Deco’s contract,” he said to the ceiling. “Remake it so he’s not so much a threat and I can steal Cesc. He’d be perfect.”
Bobby h’mmed against Thierry’s throat, but his hands spoke a good deal more eloquently. And of course Thierry had to reply, and then there wasn’t really any more pretence at discussing business, either.
* * *
“Paolo Maldini quit! And Ljungberg got promoted! And there’s this new guy—”
Cesc poked at his soda bottle. “Henrik Larsson.”
“Yeah!” Lionel bounced down so he was at eye-level with Cesc, madly grinning. Then his expression slowly changed to a frown and he turned his head so he was also pressing his cheek against the table-top. “What’s wrong? Even if you heard about it all already, I thought…I mean, wow. Talk about your earthquakes in the office.”
“Yeah,” Cesc mumbled. He raised his finger and pushed it forward till it was almost touching a drop of condensation hanging off the rim of the bottle. It started to fall and he carefully followed it till his fingertip got too close; the drop instantly swung onto it so his finger got wet.
Something prodded his side. He made an annoyed sound and kicked Lionel’s shin, and Lionel promptly tweaked his nose. So Cesc smacked him, only Lionel ducked and got at his stomach instead, and in a couple seconds they both were cursing and rubbing their asses. The floor was hard here.
Though at least Cesc managed a smile as he righted his chair. “You jerk, you’d better not have…oh, good, my soda’s still up.”
“And?” Lionel raised his eyebrow. “I’m just going to do that till you answer, you know. I’ve got my whole meal-hour to bug you.”
“And you would,” Cesc snorted. “It’s…it’s nothing much. I just had a hard day and now Deco just told me he needs me to work this evening, and…and well, I’m stuck waiting here for him to come and tell me what I’m doing and Thierry’s short one assistant.”
After dragging over his own chair, Lionel gave Cesc a couple pats on the shoulder. “There isn’t any way to fix Deco before—”
“No, and here he comes.” Cesc hastily chugged the last of his soda before getting up and hurrying over to the door. He was through it and had just enough time to arrange his face into pleasantly inquisitive before Deco got to him. “I emailed a copy of the invoice from the—”
“I got it. If you’ve got any other updates, just email those too because I’ve got to leave in a moment,” Deco said. Then he checked his watch, like anybody needed the reminder…no, actually that was an excuse to duck his head and drop his voice. “It looks like Heinze might have some immigration issues, and I think he might be working on them tonight. Check on that.”
Immigrat—but he was in legally and had been for years; Cesc had made sure to look into that when Cristiano had hired him, since there were quite a few rumors about the deals Ferguson had with the immigration agency. Whatever MU was using to keep tabs on Heinze, it wasn’t that. “Like what...”
But Deco had already walked away, leaving Cesc with the vaguest order ever. Well, okay, not really, and that was just how an assistant’s life was, but still…he could’ve been a little more helpful and then Cesc could get results back sooner. Jerk.
Standing around wasn’t really helping, though, and even Cesc could see that. So he straightened his shoulders, went back to tell Lionel he had to welsh out on their dinner, and got moving. He did drop by Raúl’s to scrounge up leftovers to eat, but the other man was—after weeks of prodding about fairness and working on Iker’s socialization skills—finally going along with Iker to a movie screening. And they were probably going to come back all relaxed and have sex in the kitchen and instead of being there with the honey and ice cubes, Cesc was busy trying to track Cristiano through the nightclub district. Life sucked.
Every day Cristiano sent Deco a copy of his evening plans, but it was more of a thumb to the nose than anything else. He never stuck to it and in fact, Cesc had stopped even looking at it after the first few times. Instead he just deleted it and called Robin, or if that prick was busy getting it from Lehmann—like he apparently was now—the friends of his relatives in the restaurant business. On the third try he hit paydirt and hurried down to a little soup shop, which mostly served its amazing food to musicians and stagehands, just in time to catch Cristiano slurping down a bowl of crab bisque. Gabriel was nowhere in sight.
“He went to check that the car didn’t get towed. Why, what does Deco care about now?” Cristiano mumbled, face half-hidden by the bowl. After the last drops had been tipped into his mouth, he set the bowl down and used a crust to bread to mop at the thin residue of soup still left inside. “We hire another hitman or something?”
“Don’t talk about that. Didn’t anybody—oh, never mind. Look, I’m just checking in. Your music video starts shooting tomorrow and Deco wants to know you’ll show up looking half-decent.” Cesc loudly drummed his fingers against the side of the booth till a waitress finally came over, then ordered himself a coffee and some cheesecake. “So how about we make this easy for both of us and you tell me when Deco can call your apartment tonight and get you?”
Cristiano rolled his eyes. “Give me a break. Deco wouldn’t send you to find that out. He’d ask his boyfriend to sic a tail on me.”
“Boyfriend?” Cesc asked.
The waitress came back with his coffee and cake just then, and stayed to giggle at Cristiano and take his empty bowl. Whereupon the brat offered her an absentminded smile before turning all smug on Cesc. “That French gangster, Giuly. Deco eats at Monaco almost every day now, and when he can’t, he gets so, so cranky. He’s got all these hickeys on his neck all the time and he doesn’t even hide them around me anymore.”
Well, he did around Cesc and everybody else at FC. Of course Cesc had known, sort of, that Deco was how Jens got non-emergency messages to Giuly, but he hadn’t…known it was done that way. “Maybe because he’s making the point that you fuck him over and he’ll send Giuly after you.”
That wiped the snooty look off Cristiano’s face, though at first it seemed as if he wanted to deny it, and maybe by throwing the napkin dispenser at Cesc. But then he thought about it and his face got all wrinkled up and he put up an elbow on the table so he could rest his chin on his hand.
“Look, Lehmann only works with Giuly because he doesn’t want to fight him, I think. And Lehmann doesn’t like it when people die, if only because his pet Dutchman can’t exactly erase dead bodies,” Cristiano suddenly said. “So Giuly and Deco teaming up isn’t something you should want.”
“Yeah, well, neither is an MU spy,” Cesc blurted out. He immediately regretted it and hunched over his plate, digging his spoon deep into the cheesecake. The stupid slice had probably come straight from the fridge, since it was rock-hard. “I mean, you—”
“Oh, you meant that. Don’t act like I’m too stupid to notice.” Cristiano favored Cesc with a glower before he picked up his water-glass. Then he sighed and put it down. “You know, I want to know about Gaby too. If he’s an MU spy he hasn’t been a very good one, because they haven’t done anything yet that could’ve come from what he could’ve told them. And he hasn’t sabotaged anything for me and he’s had the chances, but he keeps disappearing for too long, like right now.”
They both sort of stared at spots on the table till the cheesecake thawed enough for Cesc’s spoon to suddenly sink into it so it clinked loudly against the plate. He flinched, then grabbed the plate and levered the spoon around till he’d broken free a mouthful. It was still pretty hard and cold, and so it felt weird to bite into. And it didn’t taste all that great either.
“So how far away is your car parked?” Cesc finally mumbled.
“Like, around the block. Maybe five minutes, tops.” A disgusted look passed over Cristiano’s face as he watched Cesc eat, like he made sucking up soup look any more appealing. “So you’re really here to check on him?”
Cesc opened his mouth to reply, then froze as a horribly risky, impossible-to-pull-off and above all really, really perfect idea hit him. He latched onto it and ran it through his head, working out the gritty little details, till his jaw started to hurt and he realized he should close his mouth. So he did, and then he covered for his extra stalling by chopping off another chunk of cheesecake. “Yeah, I am. Hey, so if you could get Gaby on your side, or make sure that he stays on it, would you keep him around? Could he watch Deco for you?”
For a couple moments Cristiano eyed him suspiciously, but in the end the other man nodded. “He’s good and he doesn’t make fun of me behind my back. Like you.”
“I do n—” Then Cesc stopped himself, figuring any protests for just being a waste of time. “Whatever. So Deco found out from somebody—probably Giuly, come to think of it—that Heinze’s been trying to get immigration papers on the street. It can’t be for him because he’s fine, and if he’s going to an independent, MU doesn’t know about it and maybe that’s because they wouldn’t like it.”
Cristiano’s eyebrows rose and fell as he took that in. He glanced up as somebody walked in, but it apparently wasn’t Gaby since then he pushed himself forward to whisper to Cesc. “You think that’s where he is now? Do you know where?”
“No, that’s why I came here. But if he thinks he can use checking on the car as an excuse, it can’t be that far away.” Cesc looked at his plate. “This cheesecake really sucks and I want to get this done as soon as I can.”
“And I want Gaby to stay and Deco to keep out of my business, okay?” Cristiano said, getting up. He shot Cesc another glare before digging up a couple bills from his pocket.
Cesc eyeballed the money, then suppressed a sigh and pulled out his wallet. He hadn’t seen the waitress since she’d brought his order, but he left her a little tip anyway before following Cristiano out the door.
He knew the area pretty well because a lot of his aunt’s friends owned restaurants or cafés in it, so he could at least narrow down the number of places he had to look. Once Cristiano got that through his stupid head and stopped being all annoyed that Cesc didn’t like his idea of wandering around like idiots with big flashing alert signs on their heads, he told Cesc where the car was and that helped a little, too. Heinze couldn’t have strayed too far off.
“Why can’t I come with you? He’s my assistant and I don’t know that you’re going to come back and share what you find out with me.” Cristiano pouted till he glimpsed his reflection in a car window. Something about it made him frown and bend down, awkwardly contorting so he could use the car’s side-mirror.
Cesc tried not to give into the urge to go bang his head against the nearest street-light. “Well, now you know what to bug me about if I don’t tell you, so I might as well. And you can’t come because Heinze is coming back and he’ll freak if he can’t find you, and then that’ll bring everybody down, saying ‘oh, Cristiano’s gone back to being a spoiled diva again.’”
That last little comment had been a bit of a risk, but the way Cristiano stiffened told Cesc it’d been worth it. He had to hurry to hide his glee before the other man stood up to look at him. “I thought we were going to find Gaby.”
“No, I’m going to find out where he’s been, because that way we know what he’s up to but he doesn’t know we know. Which is, you know, useful for springing surprises?” Cesc delicately lilted.
For a moment it looked like Cristiano was going to have one of his tantrums, but he finally just blew out his breath—his cheeks puffed like a chipmunk’s—and shoved at his hair one last time. “Okay, fine. But if you don’t call by tomorrow morning, I’ll make your life a living hell.”
“You already have a couple times,” Cesc muttered while pulling out his phone. Then he looked up with his best innocent expression. “All right, no problem. Now, try not to mention that you saw me.”
“Smart-ass.” Plus a couple other nasty things in Portuguese, but Cristiano was already turning to wave at somebody he knew.
As he clearly was the one with commonsense, Cesc didn’t wait to be told to go: he was around the corner before Cristiano had finished calling out to his friend. Then he hissed and quickly ducked into an alley just before Heinze walked by on the sidewalk. There went finding him.
Cesc counted to ten, then slowly edged himself out. He peeked at Heinze till he was sure the other man hadn’t seen him, then collapsed back on the wall. Well, there went catching him in the—something caught Cesc’s eye and he twisted around to squint at a cluster of people around some club’s back-entrance. Then he grinned and headed straight for them.
When he was still a couple steps away, Miguel Torres happened to glance up and saw him. Torres’ eyes widened and he skittered back, but the brick wall and his friends held him up till Cesc could wriggle through to grab his arm. And then he was done for, since Cesc had had plenty of practice at imitating a limpet—not to mention Torres definitely was no Raúl.
“I said I was sorry! I helped with the cleaning bill!” Miguel squawked.
“And what about my friends, huh? I’m the one who had to deal when Leo found out you and Gago and Gonzalo had fucked my cousin. He had to talk them into getting tested and boy, was that fun.” Okay, so the last part wasn’t true. This time. Sergio had come back clean for once and thank God, but whatever, it almost happened and that was good enough for Cesc’s purposes. “You still owe me for the emotional distress.”
One of the intensely interested bystanders wondered aloud if anybody had come to talk Miguel into testing and Miguel promptly blushed hard enough to be the twin of the neon-red ‘exit’ sign behind him. He threw a glare over his shoulder, then dragged Cesc off behind a dumpster. “Okay, okay, what do you want already?”
“There’s this guy, Gabriel Heinze. Argentine, sounds like it. About this high—” Cesc gestured “—with light brown hair and a parrot beak for a nose. He used to work for MU but now—”
“—plays gofer for Cristiano Ronaldo. Yeah, I’ve seen them around…oh, I think I know. Heinze’s been seen with the local paper-man, and you want to know what about? I can do that, easy. If you’ve got a few minutes, right now.” Miguel started to take out his cell-phone, but then he paused. He stared down at Cesc. “This had better make us even. I’ll have to call in a couple favors for this one.”
“It’ll make us even,” Cesc said, vigorously nodding. He waited till Miguel had dialed and was putting the phone to his ear. “Just, you know, make sure Sergio’s been to the doctor before you and he go out again.”
Miguel cursed and flushed up again, then tried to glare Cesc to death as he hastily explained himself to whoever had come onto the other end of the line.
“Also, be a little quieter about it? I mean, Raúl knows you’re dating.” By then Miguel was too deep into the conversation to answer Cesc, so Cesc could smirk to his heart’s content at him. Well, if he had to do more waiting tonight, he thought he deserved it.
* * *
“No, Freddie. No, that sounds fine. Have it on my desk in the morning, like usual.” Jens paused to stick a spoonful of food in his mouth, chewed it quickly and then gulped it down. He let out a silent sigh before he answered Ljungberg’s next question. “So take Larsson along and then the other times he can go in your place. He’s got clearance.”
Rolling his eyes, Robin made no attempt to hold back his annoyed grunts as he wrapped up the last of his night’s work. He hit the ‘enter’ button and then let the laptop run while he got up and took his dishes over to the sink. As hard as he’d tried to eat slowly, he’d still cleaned his plate nearly half an hour ago, while at this rate Jens would need another two hours just to get through his vegetables. Stupid fucking Ljungberg and his stupid fucking questions; he’d gotten off practically scot-free for the stunt he’d pulled with Larsson’s friend and now he was acting like Jens had nothing better to do than hand-hold him all the time.
“No—Freddie. Freddie. Freddie.” A hint of exasperation finally strayed into Jens’ voice. When Robin looked, the other man had his head in his hand, and the bit of his face that Robin could see was pained. “Freddie, you know how to do this. You just…I don’t think Larsson’s that much of an idiot. He’s got no police record so obviously he knows how to be…Freddie, for God’s sake, get off the phone. Just go fuck him, get it out of your system, and go to bed already. You’ll think better afterwards.”
The phone was still crackling when Jens snapped it shut, but he didn’t look the least bit guilt-stricken as he dropped it on the table. He did glare at his plate so hard the sauce almost curdled, and then he jerked his head up to stare at Robin.
Who held up his soapy hands palms-out. “Hey, hey, you were the one who wanted to do it all today. I stayed home and out of the way and was a nice little housewife.”
“Just because you finally learned to rinse those off before you leave them for the maid to stack in the dishwasher doesn’t mean you’re a…oh, God, you’ve been talking to my mother, haven’t you?” Jens pinched the bridge of his nose. “She called today?”
“She wanted to remind you that you have to come to some cousin’s wedding in a couple weeks, and that you’d better get me a formal suit for it,” Robin said, wrinkling his nose. It wasn’t the suit part he minded—those usually guaranteed he’d get his clothes ripped off by the end of the night—so much as the idea that Jens had to do everything for him. If only because that woman should know her son regularly tried to strangle people who acted like that. “Can I bribe the DJ into playing some music that’s actually good? Or spike the drinks?”
Now Jens nearly had his nose in his food, he’d hunched over so far. His voice was so muffled he sounded like he was talking through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. “It’s in Germany. We can get drunk on the way to the church and stay like that through the whole reception, and it’ll be normal behavior.”
Robin blinked a couple times. Then he turned and rinsed off his hands before he went back to the table. “Jens? Not that you drunk again isn’t an appealing idea, but…I don’t really want to get fucked in front of your whole family. I mean, if they’re anything like your parents, they’ll be trying to offer advice the whole time and then I might just have to…Jens?”
The other man didn’t answer. The first time Robin poked him, he shrugged it off. The second time, his hand darted it and before Robin could breathe, Jens had him dragged over the table—barely missing the food—and pinned down, and…wasn’t doing anything. All Jens did was stare at him, and so Robin started to wonder just what Thierry was doing now and how fast he could get him over here.
“Did I just order Freddie to sleep with that…that hitman?” Jens finally said.
“Who, Larsson? Your newest gofer?” Robin tried to sound and look as nonchalant as he could, even though Jens hadn’t scared him this much since…since the bastard had nearly gotten bombed and then hadn’t called for nearly a whole night. “Yeah. I don’t really get those two, but if it means you aren’t kicking me out of bed in the middle of the night to deal with another stupid brawl of Ljungberg’s—hey, I’m all for it.”
Jens kept staring at him. Robin twisted his wrists a little and Jens tightened up on them. Then Robin wriggled up his leg and shoved his knee in the general direction of Jens’ stomach, and Jens bumped it away with his hip, moving him close enough for Robin to lean up and never mind about that because finally Jens was doing something normal. Which was probably going to have Robin going around with an icepack to his mouth tomorrow, but God, it felt good.
“You’re—not going to—wake up again tonight and—” Robin moan-mumbled around Jens’ tongue.
One of his hands suddenly became free, and then a second later that was explained when his jeans were skinned off him with the zipper not all the way down. “I’m not done organizing yet. Thierry has to hire somebody to replace Freddie, and then I need to keep an eye on whoever they get in place of Maldini. Pirès is doing fine but when Ruud comes back the workload will double. At least.”
“The ones he’s bringing back are that good?” Fingers pressed up behind Robin’s balls and he arched, rubbing his cock into Jens’ belly. Its tip caught on a shirt-button and he hissed, throwing back his head. “Fuck. Who cares? It’s not business hours now.”
He hissed again as teeth sank into his neck, then whimpered when Jens sucked at the sore spot. “I care. And it’s business hours whenever business says it wants to come in.”
Robin breathed through his mouth, looking up at Jens through half-closed eyes. He flexed a little so his throat rose towards the other man. “Yeah, well, what hour is it when—”
--and the fucking phone rang. After a moment, Jens cursed and stretched over Robin to get it; Robin closed his eyes and swore to God that if it was Ljungberg again, he was getting that asshole deported to Sweden. Hitman boyfriend or not.
“Fàbregas?” Jens said, startled.
“Oh…” Robin slumped against the table “…this had better be good. Or he’d better tell his cousin to stay in fucking Brazil.”
* * *
Cristiano flopped back on the couch and put up his feet on the end. He held still for a moment, just feeling the softness of the cushions, and then he started wriggling around. “Okay, no springs are poking me in the ass this time.”
Gabriel grinned as he settled into the chair across from Cristiano. “So I’m not sending this one back—oh, wait, you didn’t say if you liked the color yet.”
He was teasing, but not with that extra little mockery that Fàbregas and the others always had in the backs of their eyes. All he meant was the joke with Cristiano, and not at, and that wasn’t something Cristiano saw a lot. But even so, maybe the good humor was still a mask for something else. And by now Cristiano knew a lot better than to just trust in friendliness. “So who’s Roberto Abbondanzieri?”
He didn’t get an answer right away, and he didn’t look over to see what expression Gaby had, either. Cristiano just looked at the ceiling and the moldings that ran around the tops of the walls, which the decorators had finally gotten right. Maybe now he could actually spend some time at home; the past couple weeks he’d made sure that that would be the last place Deco would look for him for a while. And by the time the other man learned better, the security should’ve been finished.
“He’s a good friend of mine. Who told you about him?” Gaby finally asked, voice toneless.
“Deco. He didn’t tell me, but he’s who I got the name from,” Cristiano said. No point in letting Gaby know yet all the ways he could find out something. Or giving that annoying pest Fàbregas the credit. “Why do you need immigration papers for him?”
The chair creaked, and then Gaby appeared standing over Cristiano. “Why do you think? He’s not here legally and he needs them so he doesn’t get kicked out.”
“So why go to the street?” Cristiano reached up and grabbed the back of the sofa, then sat up. “Is that why you left MU? They wouldn’t help?”
“No, I told you why I left. I didn’t even ask them since if they’d pull what they did with me, then of course they weren’t going to help Pato,” Gaby snorted. He warily perched on the far end of the sofa, watching Cristiano. “But he’s not your problem. I don’t—”
“Except when you sneak off to go help him, and get Deco all suspicious. You know Deco didn’t want me to hire you in the first place, right? And now that he’s getting screwed by Giuly—”
Cristiano grimaced, but had to nod. “Yeah, him. He really likes Deco, for some reason. So I have a feeling that Deco’s going to feel more confident about fucking around with me now.”
“He can’t. You pay him, and anyway FC and Lehmann would crush him first. You make too much money for them,” Gaby said.
“I pay him, but Deco’s contracted to FC. And Lehmann doesn’t want to fight Giuly if he doesn’t have to, so somebody would have to do something really stupid to convince that stuck-up German to get into it,” Cristiano muttered. He stretched out his arms in front of them, then put his hands behind his head. Then he looked at the other man. “Look, I can get you help with the papers, but the thing is, Deco and probably Giuly both know about your friend now and they’ll probably be using that to try and pry you away. And I can’t deal with both of them by myself. I earn all that money but this is more like—like the Godfather, you know? It’s not really what I do.”
Gaby nodded a few times but didn’t say anything. His eyes were shuttered but he was definitely thinking very hard behind them. And he hadn’t immediately broken out into passionate protests about his loyalties and friendship…which was in his favor, as far as believability went, but a little part of Cristiano was disappointed. Even if Gaby hadn’t joined because of a secret MU plot, that silence still meant he hadn’t run into Cristiano completely by accident.
“If you can help out Pato, I can help you deal with Deco.” After a moment, Gaby snorted and glanced away. “And anything else. I’ll owe you for life for this one.”
“He’ll have them by the end of the week,” Cristiano promised, and took out his phone.
* * *
“You look happy,” Raúl said.
Cesc grinned at him, gave Iker’s head a ruffle and then stepped over them and into the kitchen. He made a beeline for the fridge. “Oh, c’mon, uncle. I can figure out how to have fun by myself. And without causing trouble. Much trouble. And—Raúl! Stop glaring, the back of my head’s on fire. All I did was make sure that I’ll be free now that my dream job’s opened up, and plus I made Cristiano and Lehmann happy and maybe even kept Sergio from getting into trouble for a while. Isn’t that worth smiling about?”
As Cesc got himself the orange juice, the other two men grunted and shuffled clothing around the kitchen floor. The whole place smelled like sex and in a couple places the floor was kind of sticky. Once Iker slipped in one of the spots and had to grab onto Cesc’s shoulder; he nearly made Cesc spill his juice.
“Your cousin called,” he said.
Cesc slung an arm around Iker’s waist and as soon as Iker had regained his balance, snuggled into him. “Oh, is that why you two are home early? Which—”
“José.” Dressed only in Iker’s unbuttoned shirt, Raúl grumpily pulled a handful of paper towels off the roll. His face lightened only a little when Iker proffered the cleaning spray. “He’s coming back next week.”
“Oh…oh…oh, crap, is he okay with staying with his parents again? Or is he—did you volunteer—ow! Iker!” Cesc looked accusingly up at the other man while rubbing at the pinched spot on his side.
Iker blinked confusedly back at him. Then he tipped his head. “I think Raúl’s a bad influence on me. I just thought that that was pretty funny.”
“Because his face is funny,” Raúl snorted. After wiping off his belly, he ran his hands under the sink and then dampened about half of the paper towels as well. “No, José’s got a place to stay.” Pause while he went moody again. “He says Ruud is putting him up.”
For a long time, Cesc just watched the other man tidy things up and take swipes at the sticky spots. When Iker moved, he let him go, but instead of going to help Raúl, Iker just twisted around to snap his fingers in Cesc’s face. “Cesc?”
“Wow. Good thing I talked to Lehmann tonight,” was all Cesc had to say. Though he wondered if there was any way he could get himself sent out of town next week, because man, was that going to be messy.